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When People Are Big and God Is Small (Book Review)

Last Updated: June 9, 2015

Rick Thomas
Rick Thomas

Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.  In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and in 1991 he earned a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with a MA in Counseling from The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a  Fellow with Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).

There are some books written so well that there is hardly a need for another one to be written on the topic.

When People are Big and God is Small, by Edward T. Welch, is one such book.

Yes, I realize that one book does not exhaust any topic, but Welch has done such a wonderful job in his book that you will not be left wanting[1]

Interestingly, the book was first published in 1997.

You may ask why am I writing a review on a book that is fourteen years old.

Firstly, my friend Luke Gilkerson at Covenant Eyes asked me to write a review because he is still benefiting from its content and he believes it will serve his audience.

It will!

Secondly, I have always wanted to write a review for this book because of its enduring shelf life, ever-growing testimony, and its spiritual and practical impact on my life.

There are certain seminal moments in all of our lives where we remember where we were when the moment took place.

I remember where I was and how I was affected over a decade ago when I first read this book. It was one of my seminal moments.

I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone who has yet to be encouraged by this work. I have a stack of them (literally) in my office and it is on my short list of books that I give to the people I serve. It is also a perennial favorite on my Top Ten Recommended Book List for Counseling.

The book is deep and profound in some ways, but yet written with the reader in mind. Welch is an excellent communicator.

You Are Controlled

On page 14 Welch gives us his punchline and then develops this thought throughout the rest of the book.

It is true: what or who you need will control you.

One question you never ask a person is whether or not he/she is controlled by something or someone. The reason you never ask that question is because we all are controlled by something or someone. Hence, his premise statement: “It is true: what or who you need will control you.”

The better question to ask a person is, “What is controlling you?” And then you can follow-up with, “Why do you allow that person or thing to control you?”

Once you can identify the ruling idolatry of your heart, then you’re well on the way to being changed. Welch will help you to not only identify your functional idolatry, but he will clearly, powerfully, and practically bring you to God’s answer for your problem.

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe. – Proverbs 29:25 (ESV)

From this premise of being controlled by something or someone, Welch develops a tour-de-force on the subject of the fear of man, or what many in our culture call insecurity, peer-pressure, or co-dependency.

According to what we discern from the Bible, after the fall of Adam in the garden, humanity has been struggling with insecurity. The most-oft repeated appeal in the Bible is “fear not.” Everybody fears something or someone in some way.

No one can escape the sinful fruit of the fall. This is why this book is so effective. It speaks to everyone!

Welch follows Paul’s outline in Ephesians 4:22-24 for how he laid out the book. Note what Paul says:

To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:22-24 (ESV)

Christian discipleship, as seen in Paul’s model, is a three-step process: (1) putting off your former manner of life, (2) renewing your heart or mind, and (3) putting on the new self, which is in a true likeness to God.

The Chapters

This three-step process is the pattern for When People are Big and God is Small. The first section discusses what needs to be put away or put off:

  1. “Love Tanks with a Leak”
  2. “People Will See Me”
  3. “People Will Reject Me”
  4. “People Will Physically Hurt Me”
  5. “The World Wants Me to Fear People”

Then he begins a process of taking us through a mind renewal, while teaching us how we need to renew and what we need to put on. This covers chapters 6 through 13 as he develops a mature and biblical understanding of the fear of God. It’s a masterful work.

While most people are not insecure in every area of their lives, there are “pockets of insecurity” that they have not gained victory over. Though insecurity is not pervasive, it is present within all of us. Welch will help you to understand where yours exists and how to apply a God-centered, God-fearing remedy to your sin pattern.

Insecurity Illustrated

I have taken Welch’s thoughts and developed a full-length seminar on the material. Here is the 10-minute promo video: Fear of Man Equipping Video.

Teens – A number of years ago I was counseling a teenager who struggled with the types of clothing he wore to school. He was gripped by the fear of man, or what you may understand as insecurity.

During one of our meetings together he said, “Mr. Thomas, you don’t wear Walmart to high school.” In that short statement he communicated what was controlling him; it was his desire to be accepted by his peers. You can read the entire story here: Walmart Clothes.

Men – One of the more common “reliefs” for fear of man in our culture today is through Internet porn. Porn is a place where insecure men can go to feel better about themselves. When they are feeling defeated, discouraged, worn-out, or under-appreciated and are craving sympathy, acceptance, or approval, it can become a sinful “quick-fix” by conjuring up a few “Internet ladies” to fill their empty love tank.

It is a trumped-up cyber fantasy world of the mind that does not really satisfy the unmet desires of the heart. It merely creates a longing for more of the same, while breaking down the real relationships in a person’s life.

Ed Welch brings significant and substantive help to this cyber plague that many of our Christian men have yielded to. Related to this, you may also be interested in this article: Porn: The Drug that Shrinks the Soul.

Women – Females are also prone to the gripping temptations of the fear of man. One of the primary ways they yield to this temptation is in relation to their bodies. Put simply, they feel insecure about how they look. They are not enough of this or too much of that. Rather than living in the goodness that is found in the Gospel, they crave the approval and attention of others.

They seek to fill this craving in their hearts by altering, adjusting, and manipulating their appearance. Our secular marketing culture knows this quite well and they are unashamed at how they pump the message of sexuality into our homes.

Sadly, too many of our women are gripped by the fear of not being just right. This inward shame drives their craving for the best possible look, which is an unconquerable quest because we all are marching relentlessly back to the dust.

Two of the ways they monitor their sinful progress is by the looks they garner or by comparing themselves to the female “competition.” I’ve written more on this in my article:  Fake, artificial, dyed, botoxed, painted, implanted, tucked…ad nausea.

Welch provides a better answer for the man or woman who is tempted to look for love, acceptance, approval, significance, or respect in all the wrong places. He does this by turning our focus toward a right understanding of the fear of God.

Insecurity Answered

Rather than placing your trust in the fading and temporary “amenities” of our sin plagued world, you will learn that Christ and His Word are the real and secure answers to your problem. Christ (the Gospel) and His Word are eternal and they will never go away.

If you have placed your faith in Christ, based on His Word, then you will grow in security. If your faith is in anything else, then you cannot be secure. Faith, trust, belief, confidence, or hope in Christ alone comes by hearing and hearing comes by the Word of God (Romans 10:17).

The eternal, living Logos (Christ) and the eternal, written Logos (Word) are an unbeatable pair!

Welch will help you to make Christ and His Word the controlling, governing, and directing influences of your life.

By reading and practically applying the contents of this book,  you will have a growing awareness that Christ has been more than the “missing piece” in your life. He is your life. As you grow in Him your restored relationship with the Savior will effectually change you from the inside out.

If you do not have a relationship with Him, meaning if you have not been born again, then I appeal to you right now to be saved from your sins.

If you are struggling with life-crippling insecurity or even “run-of-the-mill” garden variety insecurity, then I recommend you buy this book and prayerfully own it contents at the level of your heart. Sometimes we just need to be pointed in a better direction. Christ is that better direction and Ed Welch has the practical and applicable remedy to get you started.

This article also appears on RickThomas.net: “When People Are Big and God is Small

  • Comments on: When People Are Big and God Is Small (Book Review)
    1. David Frazier

      When People Are Big and God is Small was the tool that God used to reveal my greatest spiritual enemies…Self-Love and People-Pleasing Pride. This book revolutionized the way I even worship! I praise Jesus for the day my counselor at Pure Life Ministries assigned this book to me. I continue to also give that same mercy out to all my counselees as well as continue to see the glory and praise God receives from these men upon the assignment.

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